THE TREES BY PHILIP LARKIN

Introduction: We all know that Nature is a great teacher. Human life repeats many aspects of nature. The cyclic pattern of life in nature is reflected in human life also. This poem takes a philosophical look at nature and life. What is the general tone of the poem? Is it grief or a kind of acceptance? What lesson about life does this poem give us?
Read the poem very carefully and try to understand it on your own before seeking the help of the notes given below.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain

Yet still, the unresting castles thresh.
In full-grown thickness every May,
Last year is dead, they seem to say, Begin afresh, afresh, afresh

The trees by Philip Larkin

About the Author: Philip Larkin (1922—1985), is the most significant poet of Britain in the post-second World War period. He is an urban poet writing in a very simple style. A lonely observer of events and things around him, he rejected any idealized image of life.

You must have read the poem now, what does it communicate to you? You would have found certain words and expressions difficult. It is only natural. To have a more complete understanding of the poem, refer to the stanza wise meanings and explanations given below.

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Meanings and Explanations

Lines 1-4

Coming into leaf: An idiomatic way of describing fresh leaves appearing on a tree.
Like something… said: The poet uses a curious example to describe the growth of new leaves. He compares it to someone about to say something. The fresh leaves are the message. (This comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’ called a simile.)
recent: not long ago
bud: a flower or leaf that is not yet fully open. (Here it is a leaf bud)
The recent buds relax and spread: The opening and spreading of closed leaf buds into leaves imaginatively referred to as a relaxing. The buds described as if they are human and enjoying good leisure.
grief: sorrow
Their greenness …… grief: This line gives a shock. The new life of the buds (suggest by their “greenness”) also reminds the poet of death (suggested by the word “grief” ). The explanation of this contradictory meaning (paradox) is offered in the next stanza

The poet describes the coming of new life in nature during the spring season. The buds grow into leaves. This greening of nature is referred to in negative terms as an event bringing sorrow.

What is the link between new life and sorrow? Think about it.

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Line 5-8

grain: pattern made by the lines of fibres in wood.

The poet asks the question whether trees are different from human beings because the trees can continuously renew themselves by growing fresh leaves, whereas human beings grow old only to die. He answers saying that it is not so. Although new leaves appear on the tree every year, this happens after the tree sheds old leaves. Hence with every year the tree ages. Therefore, the aging process of the tree can be measured by counting the number of rings on the trunk. This is commonly called as the grain of the wood. Thus the tree only seems to remain fresh. He, therefore, calls it a “trick” in line 7. How is the aging of a tree different from the aging of human beings?

THE TREES BY PHILIP LARKIN: Summary and Questions 1

Line 9-12

Unresting: continuous movement of the leaves caused by the wind. The tree never rests because it is constantly renewing itself.

Castles: large fortified (strengthened against attack) buildings. Here the trees are referred to as castles. Why? The castle is a metaphor for tree. This use of language is metaphorical.

Thresh: separate the grain from its husk by beating the grain-bearing bundle of plants over a surface. Here it points to violent movement.
May: spring season
Last year ……… afresh: shows how the trees renew life every year.

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2. How does the poet treat the theme of the passage of time?
Ans. Every object in nature submits to change as time passes. In the case of the trees, their change is cyclic and the pattern of change is repeated every year. The spring season finds the trees renewing themselves. New leaves appear and spread greenness. This renewal of life is a rebirth. This does not mean that they do not age, every year the trees look new but this is the only a trick. They also age and this is recorded in the rings of grain. Nature, thus shows us how life and death are close to each other, almost continuous.
3. Examine the poet’s attitude to nature and how he uses it to reflect on life.
Ans. The poem “The Trees” looks at a very common feature in nature-how the trees shed old leaves while new leaves are forever appearing again. This “yearly trick” of looking new hides the fact the trees also grew old The age of trees is recorded in the rings of grain on the tree trunks. Thus, the greenness of the trees brings to mind sorrow as it points to change and aging. This pattern of cyclicity of life and death can be seen in life too. To the poet, this feature in nature suggests how life and death are continuous. Nature serves to show us this fact.

THE TREES BY PHILIP LARKIN: Summary and Questions

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